Anchoring the South Eastern corner of the Australian continent is the state of Victoria and the very proper city of Melbourne. Victoria may be Australia’s second smallest state (after Tasmania), but it offers a variety of experiences: world-class wineries, charming coastal villages, endearing wildlife and one of the most scenic drives in the entire world!
Getting to Australia’s second largest city is easy with daily international flights from the US, New Zealand and the South Pacific and Asian ports.
If you’ll be staying in the city of Melbourne during your stay, it’s easy to get around using trains, trams and taxis. Driving in Melbourne’s downtown can be especially tricky, as making left hand turns requires a carefully choreographed dance with the trams.
And while day tours are readily available to take you to the Yarra Valley wineries, to the famous Penguin parade and to the Great Ocean Road, you’ll find driving in the Victorian countryside to be a snap.
What to Do In Melbourne and Victoria
If you were to compare American to Australian cities, Sydney would be LA (or NYC) and Melbourne would definitely be San Francisco. (It has often been compared to Vancouver, BC.) Sophisticated, cultural, and very fashionable. Throw in beautiful Victorian architecture, magnificent parks and the ubiquitous Melbourne trams and it’s easy to understand the comparison.
Melbourne is gracefully split through the center by the Yarra River. On the north side is the heart of the city, a labyrinth of lanes and arcades, crisscrossed by the city’s trams and surrounded by banks, office towers and government buildings. The south side of the Yarra has a modern feel, boasting both the glitzy casino/entertainment complex as well as the renowned National Gallery of Australia.
Shopping is a serious pastime in Melbourne with a myriad of department stores and boutiques offering the latest in Australian fashion, arts and home goods. Gourmet dining is also taken very seriously in Melbourne and the city boasts some of the finest and most diverse restaurants in all of Australia. For a real treat, be sure to try the Tramcar Dinner where you’ll enjoy silver-service and fine Australian food and wines while traveling through the streets of Melbourne onboard a renovated tram. (Reservations for accommodation way in advance recommended.)
Melbournians area also very serious about their sports and the city is famous for spectacular international sporting events including the football Grand Final, Australian Open Tennis Tournament, the Melbourne Cup horse race (the day the whole nation stops), and the Formula One Grand Prix.
The Great Ocean Road
Victoria is home to one of Australia’s most beloved- and the world’s most scenic – drives: the Great Ocean Road. Curving its way along almost 200 miles of wind swept coastline, it passes wide beaches, sheer cliffs and secluded coves. It also offers a glimpse into “real Australia”, passing through quaint villages, apparently forgotten by time for 100 years, except for the bare-footed surfers crossing the sand.
At Apollo Bay the Road leaves the coast and winds through the rainforest of Cape Otway before returning to hug the coastline along the entire length of the Port Campbell National Park. This twisting and turning stretch offers the most dramatic coastal scenery, including an amazing collection of rock sculptures known as ‘The Twelve Apostles’ – huge stone pillars looming out of the surf.
While parts of the Great Ocean Road can be seen on a day trip from Melbourne, many people chose to stay overnight in one of the small towns along the way. Another option is to drive or take a tour from Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road which finishes in Adelaide in South Australia.
The Yarra Valley
Only an hour or so east of Melbourne is Victoria’s prime wine growing region, the Yarra Valley. Here you can discover over 55 wineries, from small family owned vineyards to the famed Chateau Yering and Domain Chandon, where you can taste delicious pinot noir, chardonnay and sparkling wines. Fresh local Victorian produce is also plentiful at farm gates, roadside stalls, wineries, and gourmet outlets. If you’d prefer not to drive yourself, many companies offer group and private tours to the Yarra Valley from Melbourne. For a truly remarkable experience, you can even take to the skies and arrive at a winery in a hot air balloon.
Phillip Island and the Penguin Parade
Every day at dusk, Phillip Island hosts Australia’s most popular wildlife event – a parade of little penguins that emerge from the sea and make their way to their burrows in the sand dunes. The island is also home to a large number of koalas, and a colony of up to 16,000 fur seals that take up residence at Seal Rocks at the western tip of the island from October to December. Surrounded by some of the best surf and swimming beaches in Victoria, Phillip Island also has a reputation for beautiful coastal scenery, with rugged ocean beaches lining the coastline that faces Bass Strait. Philip Island is an easy 90-minute drive from Melbourne; numerous sightseeing companies offer various guided day trips to Philip Island and the Penguin Parade.
The Mornington Peninsula
Just an hour outside Melbourne, but seemingly a world away is the Mornington Peninsula, a longtime beach getaway for Melbournians. With the rough seas of the Bass Strait on one side and the calm waters of Port Philip Bay on the other, the Mornington Peninsula offers miles along coastal trails through national parks and on peaceful country lanes.
Cliff-top mansions, lively local markets, historic gardens and art galleries dot the peninsula’s numerous seaside villages. Food and wine is also a passion on the Mornington Peninsula with a plethora of restaurants and cafes featuring the area’s finest produce and wines from the region’s 50 wineries.
The Mornington Peninsula is also a golfing heaven. The peninsula’s natural topography is perfect for links-style layouts and its 18 course include ones designed by golfing greats Greg Norman and Robert Trent Jones Jr.